Govt to examine new report on legal services

Government will reevaluate the latest findings from a study carried out by the Legal Aid Forum concerning public perception on justice and legal services in the country. The Legal Aid Forum report was released last week.
Participants at the launch of the report in Kigali last week. / Timothy Kisambira
Participants at the launch of the report in Kigali last week. / Timothy Kisambira

Government will reevaluate the latest findings from a study carried out by the Legal Aid Forum concerning public perception on justice and legal services in the country.

The Legal Aid Forum report was released last week.

The move to examine some of the key findings in the survey, according to Justice minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye, is informed by the contradictory results on the performance of and public trust in Abunzi (community-based mediators)

While the study established that generally, 87 per cent of Rwandans were satisfied with the legal and judicial services extended to them, 35 per cent expressed mistrust for services offered by the mediators.

Abunzi or mediators are panels of community members that help settle disputes among members of the same community with view to promote reconciliation and rehabilitation.

On the other hand, the report stated that conventional courts have upheld the decisions of Abunzi (in case of appeal) at the rate of more than 90 per cent.

This, the minister said, was strange and will need thorough analysis to ascertain the real issue.

“It is the first time, in the last 13 years that we have come across such findings; these figures raise a lot of questions and we will need, together with researchers, to return to the drawing board and analyse it further,” Busingye said.

According to the minister, the ministry will also engage other stakeholders in the research industry to examine the methodology used mostly on the sampled population, research questions, among others.

“For us it was a bit challenging because we couldn’t know which appropriate corrective actions to take, an analysis of the correlation between Abunzi and courts verdicts is needed,” he added.

The minister also stated that part of the analysis of the findings will also look at the results on citizens’ awareness of legal matters which was also found to be low, according to the study.

The report shows that people were not confident in their knowledge of laws which, according to officials, could affect their livelihoods, property ownership and freedoms.

Some respondents were unaware, for example, of land rights, succession rights and pre-trial detention rights.

According to the report, only 4 per cent of the respondents rated their understanding of the law as being ‘high’.

Responding to this, Busingye said the findings were ‘too generic’ and it is a bit difficult to understand core provisions on so many laws in place and at the same time.

The Legal Aid Forum report urged government to step up awareness campaigns to ensure increased public knowledge of laws.

“In our recommendations we have asked government to improve sensitisation, especially at the lower levels of local government,” said Rene Munyamahoro, a board member at Forum of Legal Aid.

“Platforms like community service (Umuganda) should be used to sensitise people on such laws as succession laws, land related laws and those regarding pre-trial detention,” he said.

Munyamahoro said citizens that are unaware of their rights barely enjoy those rights.

About 83 per cent of the respondents were not aware that there were rights regarding pretrial detention, while 25 per cent did not know anything about succession laws.

At least 29 per cent of respondents did confirm their knowledge of official gazettes and places where they can find laws used in Rwanda.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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